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All you need to know about shopping at French food markets

No stay in France is complete without a visit to one of the country's famous food markets. Here's what you need to know to help you navigate them like a local.

All you need to know about shopping at French food markets
Food market in Versailles. Photo: AFP
Rows of stalls packed with seasonable vegetables, delicious meat and cheeses – French markets are a great way to sample the French lifestyle at its best.
 
Here's a list of things to know to help you navigate them like an expert. 
 
A hundred new markets are created in France every year
 
A hundred new markets are born every year in France with communities using them to revitalise city centres, according to a 2016 survey.
 
And while there was a period of time when consumers were being lured away by big supermarkets, the popularity of traditional markets is once again on the rise. 
 
There are lots (and lots) of them
 
There are 10,683 food markers in France. So you are never really that far from one if you do your research.
 
Photo: AFP
 
You won't get everything in one place 
 
Of course, French markets are wonderful but they aren't convenience stores where you can get it all in one go. And that is one of the reasons they're so attractive, after all. 
 
At most markets, especially the best ones, specialty food from the local area will be on sale so go with an open mind about what you're having for dinner that night. 
 
When to arrive 
 
The stalls usually open from 8am-9am in the morning and if you're driving, the earlier you arrive the more likely you are to get a good parking spot.
 
But as the morning wears on the market will get more lively so you might find you want to stick around for a few hours. 
 
Sunday is (sometimes) a day of rest…and Monday might be too
 
It's not a hard and fast rule but food markets don't always happen on a Sunday. 
 
This was originally down to religious reasons but even as people go to church less and less, it has remained a tradition.
 
For others, Monday might be the day off so if you're relying on markets to eat, it may be wise to stock up on enough food to last you from Saturday until Tuesday.
 
Photo: AFP
 
Don't haggle 
 
A French market isn't really the setting for a good haggle, with prices already set. 
 
And it's a good idea to bring as many small notes and change as you can — paying with the right money will be appreciated. 
 
Market halls vs. outdoor markets 
 
There is a distinction between the markets that take place in covered halls and those that happen outside. While indoor markets are often open every weekday, outdoor markets usually happen two or three times a week, depending on the size of the village, town or city. 
 
Follow the locals 
 
Don't be put off by a big crowd around a stall, this probably means the quality of the produce is top notch. Especially if the crowd is mostly made up of locals. 
 
Seasonal timetables
 
One of the reasons it can be hard to keep track of when and where the markets are taking place is that some will only happen at certain times of the year…which brings us on to our next point…
 
Check online
 
The most reliable source to get practical information about markets is still the town hall itself (or the town's website).
 
That's because it's the mayor and the City Council who have jurisdiction over the organization of the markets.

 
But French markets have caught up with the times and you'll also find an interactive map on several sites such as jours-de-marché.fr or marchédefrance.org
 
Photo: AFP
 
They can be difficult to navigate…even once you've arrived 
 
French markets can be happen on a large scale so it's usually a good idea to plan your route around them, if possible.
 
Look at how people are moving through them and see if it's a case of navigating a series of small alleys or moving around public square. Either way, keep in mind the essentials you are looking to buy. 

 
There are lots of good reasons to visit them
 
Choosing to shop at food markets in France rather than getting everything from a supermarket gives you the chance to eat fresh, seasonal produce, contribute to the local economy and learn a bit more about what you're buying and where it comes from.
 
It's also a way to take back control of what you eat because if you cook you're own food from ingredients bought from a farmer down the road, you don't have to worry about what else might have gone in there like you do with pre-prepared food. 
 
And once you become a familiar face, it's a chance to do your shopping with a bit of socialising thrown in. 
 
Photo: AFP
 
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
 
It's not a good idea to touch the fruit and vegetables (just imagine if everyone was doing it!) but you are welcome to point to or tell them which ones you'd like. 
 
Similarly, if you're buying a rotisserie chicken, don't be afraid to ask for some of the juices to to go with it or ask the fishmonger to clean and gut the fish for you. 
 
Oh, and remember that most vendors will be more than happy to let you have a taste of the produce before you buy. 
 
Stay alert
 
You will need to keep an eye on your place in the line as queuing isn't observed as much in France as it is in other countries like the UK. 
 
Make sure you know who was in front of you and make eye contact with the vendor to let them know that you're there to buy.

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Five signs you’ve settled into life in Switzerland

Getting adjusted to Swiss ways is not always easy for foreign nationals, but with a lot of perseverance it can be done. This is how you know you’ve assimilated.

Five signs you've settled into life in Switzerland
No lint: Following laundry room rules is a sign of integration in Switzerland. Photo by Sara Chai from Pexels

Much has been said about Switzerland’s quirkiness, but when you think about it, this country’s idiosyncrasies are not more or less weird than any other nation’s — except for the fact that they are expressed in at least three languages which, admittedly, can complicate matters a bit.

However, once you master the intricacies and nuances of Swiss life, you will feel like you belong here.

This is when you know you’ve “made it”.

You speak one of the national languages, even if badly

It irritates the Swiss to no end when a foreigner, and particularly an English-speaking foreigner, doesn’t make an effort to learn the language of a region in which he or she lives, insisting instead that everyone communicates to them in their language.

So speaking the local language will go a long way to being accepted and making you feel settled in your new home.

You get a Swiss watch and live by it

Punctuality is a virtue here, while tardiness is a definite no-no.

If you want to ingratiate yourself to the Swiss, be on time. Being even a minute late  may cause you to miss your bus, but also fail in the cultural integration.

‘The pleasure of punctuality’: Why are the Swiss so obsessed with being on time?

Using an excuse like “my train was late” may be valid in other countries, but not in Switzerland.

The only exception to this rule is if a herd of cows or goats blocks your path, causing you to be late.

A close-up of a Rolex watch in Switzerland.

Owning a Rolex is a sure sign you’re rich enough to live in Switzerland. Photo by Adam Bignell on Unsplash

You sort and recycle your trash

The Swiss are meticulous when it comes to waste disposal and, not surprisingly, they have strict regulations on how to throw away trash in an environmentally correct manner.

Throwing away all your waste in a trash bag without separating it first — for instance, mixing PET bottles with tin cans or paper — is an offence in Switzerland which can result in heavy fines, the amount of which is determined by each individual commune.

In fact, the more assiduous residents separate every possible waste item — not just paper, cardboard, batteries and bottles (sorted by colour), but also coffee capsules, yogurt containers, scrap iron and steel, organic waste, carpets, and electronics.

In fact, with their well-organised communal dumpsters or recycling bins in neighbourhoods, the Swiss have taken the mundane act of throwing out one’s garbage to a whole new level of efficiency.

So one of the best ways to fit in is to be as trash-oriented as the Swiss.

READ MORE: Eight ways you might be annoying your neighbours (and not realising it) in Switzerland

You trim your hedges with a ruler

How your garden looks says a lot about you.

If it’s unkempt and overgrown with weeds, you are clearly a foreigner (though likely not German or Austrian).

But if your grass is cut neatly and your hedges trimmed with military-like precision (except on Sundays), and some of your bushes and shrubs are shaped like poodles,  you will definitely fit in.

You follow the laundry room rules

If you live in an apartment building, chances are there is a communal laundry room in the basement that is shared by all the residents.

As everything else in Switzerland, these facilities are regulated by a …laundry list of “dos” and “don’ts” that you’d well to commit to memory and adhere to meticulously.

These rules relate to everything from adhering to the assigned time slot to removing lint from the dryer.

Following each rule to the letter, and not trying to wash your laundry in someone else’s time slot, is a sign of successful integration.

Voilà, the five signs you are “at home” in Switzerland.

READ MORE: French-speaking Switzerland: Seven life hacks that will make you feel like a local

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